Is the Revolution Still On?

In his audio lectures on The Call, Os Guinness describes what keeps his sense of calling fresh. First, Guinness emphasizes the importance of spiritual disciplines. Second, Guinness credits accountability. “We all need a small group of those who know our dreams, who know our longings and our prayers,” he says. “As time goes by, things slip. We need to hold each other’s feet to the fire.”

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce

Guinness has a pastor-friend who regularly asks him, “Is the revolution still on?” Both of them have dreamed for twenty-five years of seeing the Lord do something in their time on the level of William Wilberforce or other great figures from the past. As time goes on, we tend to settle for less. “We give up on that hope,” Guinness says. “We moderate that dream.”

I’ve noticed how easy it is to begin to coast and lose one’s edge without knowing it. It’s our natural tendency. Some of the people I admire most are those who, even as they grow older, continue to learn and risk like they did when they were young, long after it’s necessary to do so. When they could settle down, they are still working on keeping their calling fresh.

One of the youngest minds I’ve met belonged was when I was in my twenties, and I met a pastor’s wife in her eighties. Her faith and her mind were as sharp as any person I’ve encountered.

I love Richard Lovelace’s advice:

Do not pray only for your own spiritual renewal. Pray for a springtime of the Spirit which will enrich the church and the world, an awakening for which all earlier renewal movements have been only rehearsals.

“Is the revolution still on?” Someone please keep asking me this as I get older. It just may keep me praying and working the way that I should be.

What Keeps a Church Planter Going?

It happens to most church planters. At some point, you wonder what possessed you to think you could start a church from scratch. All churches are fragile, but an infant church is especially at risk, and the mortality rate for infant churches is high.

I’ve heard someone say that a third of church plants thrive, a third limp along, and a third close. That means that two-thirds of church plants either struggle or fail. I’ve also heard that average church grows to only sixty people or so in the first four years. In places like Canada, that number is even lower. As I heard Ed Stetzer say recently, "Church planting is a hard, long slog.”

What keeps church planters going in the midst of the challenges, especially if you are in one of the two-thirds that isn’t experiencing rapid growth?

One of the things that has helped me is talking to small business owners in our community. Because our community is new, dozens of new businesses have started. In each case, the person who started the business has poured significant amounts of money into the venture. In each case, they are working crazy hours. In most cases, they didn’t have a hope of breaking even in the short term. In some cases, they’ve already closed. Just last week I heard of another new venture in our community that shut down.

If small business owners can pour their lives and risk everything to start a new business, why would I risk any less to plant the gospel? If they are willing to pour time and money into selling products, and sometimes fail, why would I be afraid to fail in what we’re doing?

I don’t think I’m far off in thinking this way. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul compared the risks and hazards of ministry to that of a soldier, athlete, and farmer. “I endure everything for the sake of the elect,” he writes, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).

Church planting is hard, but not necessarily harder than the work that soldiers, athletes, farmers, and small business owners do. If they are willing to put a good part of their lives on the line, why wouldn’t I?

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Let's Talk about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

It has nothing to do with biblical Christianity. It's not in the Bible. Jesus didn't teach it. Paul wouldn't recognize it.

And yet it calls itself Christianity and it's taught every Sunday by pastors in church buildings all over the place.

What Is Evangelism?

I'm more confident than ever that I not only can but must share the good news with those around me.

So what’s changed? Why am I, a spectacular "failure" as an evangelist not discouraged?

Because I finally learned what evangelism truly is—and the good news about its results.

The Legacy of a Disciple-Maker

For the next year and a half, David poured into me. He taught me the importance of sharing life stories, hunting one other’s sin, and giving each other grace.

Four Ways Generosity Benefits Us

By God’s grace, it’s not only others who benefit when we give. Here are just four of the many benefits we receive when we choose generosity.

The Benefits of Sitting Under Expository Preaching

Consider a few benefits from sitting under regular expository preaching.

How To Build A Church Planting Team

A good planter and revitaliser will have to be a first rate communicator. They must be able to explain the their vision, excite and stimulate people and incentivise them to join his team. A good leader will need to communicate the following in the early days...

The Truest Kind of Rest

The thing about rest is that it sounds boring. The first time I heard of Richard Baxter’s classic The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, I almost felt like taking a nap. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great book. It’s just that my thoughts immediately went to heaven being a long sleep in a lazy hammock. It’s good for 20 minutes or so, but an eternity of that kind of rest sounds tedious.

It’s also why I had a hard time understanding Hebrews. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his,” it says (Hebrews 4:9-10). What is the nature of this rest? Why is Hebrews so concerned about it? And why, if rest is part of what it means to follow Jesus, am I more tired than I’d like to admit?

It turns out the rest is something much better than an extended nap in a hammock. George Guthrie speaks of this rest being we experience both now — today! — and later. It’s the end of entering striving based on our own works. The type of rest he’s talking about is resting in relationship with God because of what Christ has done for us. It isn’t inactivity; it’s all of life (including the things we do) from a foundation of security in what we have, and in what can’t be taken away.

This means we have freedom and permission to rest and worship no matter what is going on in our lives. It isn’t a legalistic obligation; it’s a gift that only has to be received.

Here’s the problem: we can miss out on this rest. It’s why the author of Hebrews continues, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:11). Appropriating the rest that is ours in Christ is not automatic. There’s a kind of irony in this passage: we have to work to find rest? According to Hebrews, yes. Strive to enter the rest that is yours in Christ.

Again, the book Beloved Dust puts it well. Speaking of rest, the authors say:

This is probably not what you think it is— rest is not inaction or laziness. It is not merely the default result of having nothing to do. Rest is the foundation for our lives in God.

They describe what this is like:

This is most fully understood only when we can come before the Lord in utter silence, not seeking to justify ourselves, prove ourselves, make excuses for ourselves, or even announce our presence. In the presence of the Lord, we rest in the intercession of the Son and Spirit. In the presence of the Lord, we draw near based on what the Lord has already done for us. There, before the face of God, we find rest and peace in the work of another.

We are free to love others and not use them, because we are no longer the center of our universe, but find ourselves in orbit around Christ. We are free to rest in God’s grace. We are free to know and be known because God has made himself known to us in Christ. In this freedom we can finally allow ourselves to be known in prayer, and to know the God of love as he cascades his prayers over us.

The real rest that we’re offered is something more valuable than a long sleep or vacation. It’s knowing that right here, right now, my foundation is the work of Christ. I have nothing left to prove. That’s much better than a nap in a hammock.

Work Hard at Resting Well

The last time I took up running, I ended up injured. I did really well until the last stretch of a long run when something went wrong with my knee. I hobbled home and traded my running shoes for medical visits and a cane. That was the end of my running for a few years.

I’m running again now, and so far I’m doing a lot better. One of the keys is what I’m not doing. I’m not overtraining. John Stanton writes:

Overtraining is doing too much too soon…Training is the result of the body adapting to stress. The stress must be regular enough and strong enough to stimulate adaptation, but if it is too strong or too frequent, you will break down — you are overtraining. Rest is the phrase during which adaptation takes place, and you become stronger. It is just as important as your workout…If you do not rest voluntarily, your body will force you to rest — by fatigue, illness, injury, staleness or burnout. (Running: The Complete Guide to Building Your Running Program)

Talk about counterintuitive: rest is when you get stronger, and it’s as important as working out. Ignore rest, and your body will make sure you get rest. I discovered this myself as I limped around like an old man with a cane.

Our problem is that we hate rest. We fill every nook of our lives with things to do, skimp on our vacations, and refuse to take days for rest. Sometimes we even struggle to sleep. It’s another form of overtraining. We fail to realize that we become stronger as we rest, and that if we don’t rest, our body will force us to rest.

It’s ultimately a spiritual issue. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel write:

Sleep is an excellent litmus test of our posture toward time. Often, we view sleep as superfluous— wasted space that can be used if we determine more time is needed to accomplish a certain task. Every night millions of people around the world stare blankly at their TVs to avoid the reality that sleep is next on the day’s docket. Embracing our call to be creatures entails embracing sleep as a fundamental aspect of our vocation. We are called to rest and respect our bodies. In this sense, for many believers, sleep is a profound, spiritual practice reminding us on a daily basis of the truth of our identity as creatures. In sleep we are laying down our bodies as living sacrifices before the Lord (Rom. 12:1). This, too, can be an aspect of our worship of God. (Beloved Dust)

One of the best things I do to run well is to stop running some days. And one of the best things I do as a follower of Jesus Christ is to sometimes stop working, and to receive His sabbath not as an obligation, but a gift. Rest is sometimes as important as work.

So rest well. Acknowledge your finitude. I’ve seen the consequences in my own life when I haven’t done this, and I’ve also seen it in others. Sleep and sabbath are part of our vocations; put just as much energy into doing those well as anything else that you do.